The Marc Steiner Show

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A Tale of Two Galaxies – Exxon Mobil and the Rest of Us, by Lea Gilmore

“Oh my God, I just can’t afford this,” frustratingly exclaimed the woman in front of me in the supermarket line as she watched her food bill go off into the stratosphere. As each beep registered item after item, she finally turned to me, a complete stranger who seemed an obvious ally to her pain, and she said, “You know, I can no longer afford gas to get to work, but if I don’t go to work, I can no longer afford food to feed my family. ” I, and the guy with two small children begging for a Snickers bar behind me, gave our collective “amens,” deeply understanding her dilemma from a very personal place.

On that same day, the Exxon Mobil Corporation announced record second quarter profits of 11.68 billion (yeah, million but with a “B”!) dollars. This is the largest profit ever recorded by an US corporation, a profit margin surpassing their own previously astonishing record.

Let’s really think about that and offer some perspective: These profits do not reflect a calendar, fiscal or even astrological year, but are a reflection of a mere three months of operations. And yet, this still did not meet Wall Street’s earnings expectations resulting in Exxon stock shares actually falling.

It’s like living in some fantastical economic twilight zone.

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards always spoke of there being “two Americas.” It seems even deeper and more profound than that — more like two alternate galaxies.

In one galaxy the inhabitants are ruled by the gods of speculation, and Wall Street provides the entrance to the diamond encrusted gates where the streets truly are paved with gold. The royalty here (commonly referred to as corporate CEO’s and the like) make millions as their kingdoms collapse around them – Modern day Neros. In this corner of the universe, the one known as Phil Gramm, a former US Senator, economist and BFF (teenspeak for "best friend forever")  of John McCain, informs us that all of our economic pain is just in our heads. We are just a nation of “whiners” experiencing a “mental recession.” Yes, this is a scary place, made even more frightening by the insane amount of power the inhabitants here use and abuse.

Meanwhile back in the galaxy that I inhabit, many middle class and even upper middle class families who once enjoyed vacations and weekend getaways, now shop for groceries at the food bank . Turn off notices, foreclosure statements, pink slips and medical bills have replaced pay checks. In fact, this is where living pay check to pay check has become an accomplishment, because it means you actually have the money to keep going. As that venerable poet and stark observer of the human condition Marvin Gaye sang to us, “this ain’t living.”

So given all of this, it is not a big leap to understand why ordinary folks just can’t wrap their heads around any one business, not even a sovereign nation, making 11.68 billion dollars in three months. No matter how we intellectualize it, explain it and explore it, it just hits us in the gut.

And at the center of all this madness – oil.

Oil dominates our lives and the lives of others all over the world. In fact, even the immense humanitarian crisis in Darfur region of The Sudan is steeped in the politics of oil.  In particular, China remains hush hush as atrocities against black Africans continue to abound in the region. The Chinese government has reaped billions in profits as they have become The Sudan’s number one trading partner. According to an NPR report, The Bank of Sudan estimates that the country sells well more than 80 percent of its crude to Beijing.

The US has appropriately called the hell in Darfur genocide, but even with the limited US sanctions that have been implemented against the government, there seems to be a hesitance in taking China to task — due to oil access and more — even though the Chinese government has the most leverage to affect change.  It is not the first time that a barrels of oil seem to trump human lives.

So what gives?

There seems to be a collective frustration when reason after reason is given for the remarkable rise in energy costs. Is it purely supply and demand? Are we being manipulated by the manipulators?

Even the so-called facts are relative based on the ideological  bent of the messenger. With the media infected with sound bite-itis, it’s hard to get the facts. It seems even more impossible in an election year. What happened to the “Straight Talk Express? ” It feels kinda twisted to me. Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, just give us that elusive thing called the truth.

Maybe I am setting the bar too high.

We hear terms that we only sorta understand. This is what I have been able to infer so far: “Windfall profit tax” – good. “Big oil” – bad. “Renewable energy” – good. “Offshore drilling” – Bad (I think). What does it all mean? One thing we do know is that there are a group of people getting unbelievably wealthy and wealthier in the midst of our confusion.

My ignorance in these matters frustrates me, so I have been doing my own research. One thing I have been able to ascertain is that offshore drilling is actually – not good. It is not the great panacea we are being lead to believe. It will take years to impact the price at the pump. The environmental implications are dire, and according to many experts, we don’t even have the hardware out there for immediate implementation. Yet still, according to a Rasmussen report this past June, 67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18% disagree and 15% are undecided. Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don’t believe it will have an affect.

OK, I get it.

When people are suffering, they will support almost anything just for some relief, no matter the long term implications (let’s say it all together now – “Bush tax cuts”). That being said, I was proud of my American sisters and brothers when they didn’t seem to be swayed by the pandering proclamations of a “gas tax holiday” pushed by the Clinton and McCain campaigns during the presidential primaries.

Alas, you can bet that gimmick will be back.

The other truth is that our dependence on oil is chilling. Gasoline, home heating oil, kerosene, asphalt and road oil, aviation fuel, lubricants, still gas and even more stuff is produced from one barrel of crude oil. The US imports around 50% of our oil, with 50% of that coming from OPEC nations. According to a Time magazine article published this past May, oil imports now account for most of the U.S. trade deficit, which was running at an annualized pace of $717 billion, or 5.05% of GDP, in the first quarter of 2008. Our addiction to oil is costing us in a big way.

There are alternatives, but it requires investment of resources by the government and patience from the electorate. There are no quick fixes. Even T. Boone Pickens, the oil billionaire and financier of the Swift Boat smear campaign that was instrumental in derailing the presidential hopes of Senator John Kerry in 2004, has embraced renewable energy by investing his gazillions in wind power (see, told you it is like the twilight zone…). Isn’t this investment something our government should be doing?

Other forms of renewable energy such as tidal power, solar power, geothermal power, hydropower, as well as biomass (using living or recently dead biological material like hemp and corn and converting it into fuel) are also options. Something tells me that those oil lobbyist types aren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about these choices and will pull the big guns out (Hah! Too many easy jokes to make here) to slow the process of implementation.

One of the greatest advantages in using renewable energy is obviously the reduction of greenhouse gases produced by our massive usage of fossil fuel. That being so, one of the greatest disadvantages at the micro level is that it is often prohibitively costly for everyday folks to embrace alternative energy choices. Although most of us would love to convert our homes into bastions of solar efficiency, we don’t have the big dollars to do so. It seems the people that can least afford to pay the exorbitant costs of installing solar panels and backyard windmills, are the ones who would benefit the greatest from the energy savings. Yet another dilemma.

Businesses are also in distress. Due to the high costs of energy, tightened access to credit, and housing troubles, employers seriously restricted hiring in July. The Labor Department released a report on August 7 reporting that the national unemployment rate unexpectedly hit its highest level in more than six years. No jobs means no consumer spending. No spending means the economy falters even more. But Mr. Gramm told us it is all in our heads, so why worry?

In this atmosphere where people are hurting on so many levels, and gloom and doom is thrown at us “every weeknight at 5 and 11,” there seems something obsessively obscene about energy companies enjoying record profits, at a time when many of us feel like we are on a sinking ship, with the lifeboats already occupied by oil executives making sure their bonus checks don’t get wet.

Jeesh, it is just so easy to get discouraged by the unfairness of it all. That unfortunate helpless feeling starts nagging and it seems that no matter what we do, things just won’t change. Well, that’s not so true. There is one thing we can all do – VOTE.

Lea Gilmore

Friday, August 8, 2008


Lea Gilmore: With Spies Like Them, Who Needs Enemies?

We’re pleased to bring you a special guest blog today by CEM contributor Lea Gilmore.

When 10 Maryland citizens showed up on March 16, 2005 for an anti-death penalty meeting in Takoma Park to coordinate activities on behalf of Maryland death row inmate Vernon Evans, I am sure they didn’t think they had a spy in their ranks. As they mobilized volunteers, worked on flyers, and discussed their peaceful protests, I am sure it did not cross their minds that they were doing something so subversive that it warranted secret attendance by Maryland State Police (MSP) undercover agents.

Click here to read more.

Well, that’s what they got.

Documents obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) lawsuit revealed that the MSP engaged in covert surveillance of local peace and anti-death penalty groups for over a year from 2005-2006. In a press release distributed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the organization expressed alarm at the incomprehensible spying revealed in 43 pages of summaries and computer logs, none of which refer to criminal or even potentially criminal acts, other than a few isolated references to plans for completely nonviolent civil disobedience.

ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Susan Goering blasted the program stating, “The documents show that the MSP engaged in surveillance operations against peaceful activists similar to those abandoned in the 1970s with the end of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s infamous COINTELPRO program. The ACLU will soon file additional requests under the Maryland Public Information Act to assess other activities and targets of the MSP’s ‘Homeland Security and Intelligence Division’ and will seek legislative reforms to ensure this kind of improper spying never happens again.”

So I ask, just what were the Maryland State Police looking for? Did they think that folks were planning to peace us to death? Did they believe these dangerous peacenik gatherings and rogue anti-death penalty groups must have required extra special undercover surveillance in order to save us from “the tuurist”? Or maybe they are saving us from uh…tourists? That must be it. Rabid tourists are descending on local peace gatherings inspiring and plotting destruction of family values and our way of life.

OK, let me stop being facetious.

I understand completely that when Thomas Jefferson said “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” that that really does mean something. We must remain vigilant in the presence of real threats and real enemies, but we must not abandon and throw out our civil liberties in the process. We must be careful to weigh our fear with reason, and be ever so ready to question the motives of government when our rights start sliding down that slippery slope towards injustice.

It’s a curious thing. Republicans are always complaining about “big government.” That being said, former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich and his administration, in this secret folly, seemed to embrace their “bigness,” with a warm bear hug, with Bob taking on the awesome responsibility of becoming a “big brother” to us all.

The fact that the Ehrlich administration expended funds to spy on groups that may disagree with them ideologically, and in the process trampling on their and our constitutional rights, is beyond egregious.

Is this just the tip of the proverbial iceberg? How many other innocent groups and individuals in Maryland and beyond have fallen victim to these intrusive and unconstitutional practices?

These actions are now receiving the national attention they deserve. According to The Baltimore Sun, the US Congress will seek to ascertain the Homeland Security Department’s role in this spy game, and whether federal tax dollars were used in the process. With economic collapse happening all around us, dedicating significant funds on this unwarranted chase is just sad and shameful. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, in a letter to the department stated, “These allegations are extremely troublesome and bring to light past domestic covert operations, which were found to be not only unconstitutional but also damaging to the rule of law and America’s democratic principles.” He continued, "Funding of the state police actions with federal taxpayer dollars would constitute a waste of valuable resources, both human and financial."

I love this country. What I most love about this land of ours is that I can scream from the rooftops about how ridiculous and Un-American I believe these actions are, all the while knowing I will not be sent to that mystery place of no return because I did – well, at least not yet.

From creepy and insidious Patriot Acts, to our government leaders having serious conversations about the details of defining torture (torture!), this post “911” political climate has lent itself to allowing us to accept the chipping away of our civil liberties by those who manipulate our reasonable fears in unreasonable ways for political gain.

The political tide is turning. This has spurred something in Maryland‘s electorate and beyond, and is quickly becoming a catalyst for change. The bipartisan outrage at these actions is a sign of life that there are limits to how much and what we will allow done in our name. The ACLU of Maryland is continuing to mount efforts to find out what other organizations and activists have been singled out for this wrongful spying. US Senator Benjamin Cardin and Maryland State Legislators are calling for hearings to delve deeply into these unconstitutional actions. This is not going to be swept under the political rug.

The old folks used to sing a song while marching for equality that rings so true today, “I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…gonna keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to freedom land.” We will not be turned around by generated fears and covert power plays. We will keep those flashlights pointed in the face of injustice — Now that’s eternal vigilance.

 

-Lea Gilmore


4/18 Blog Today

Random Thoughts..

First, where is everybody? It seems that very few of you have questions or comments for Mayor Sheila Dixon. So, is that disinterest in city politics, or more who could care what she says, or this kind of stuff is just ho hum? Well, we will be in her office at 4:30 on Monday. Hope to have it up on our site when we get back from City Hall.

Next, we will be focusing some of our work on school violence, talking to the CEO, teachers and students. So, if you have thoughts on it, send them in. If you are a schoolteacher or student maybe you can be part of the interview. Comment here or email justinlevy2@gmail.com.

Your responses to WYPR Board

Someone asked if Martin O’Malley ever voiced his support. I heard he did from a third party. I also received calls from many elected officials outraged by what happened, including Senator Ben Cardin, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, Congressmen John Sarbanes, Wayne Gilchrest and Elijah Cummings, Delegate Jon Cardin, State Senator Jamie Raskin and many others. I heard there was a lot of outrage from many within the Baltimore Metropolitan delegation.

I wake angry and frustrated many days thinking about what happened. Usually, once I say good morning to my little one, walk my dog Charley, and have coffee with Valerie, I am over it.

We keep up the good fight with them where it needs keeping up, but we are moving on. We have so many stories we want to do, interviews we are waiting to produce, town meetings to organize, and a new public media we’re working to create to worry about their board and management too much. They are a distraction.

Presidential Election

I have been thinking a lot about Obama’s comments and the continuing ad nauseum conversation about what he said. How much can we talk about it, over and over and over. The other day when I was in Hagerstown for our Maryland Humanities Council performance of Martin, Malcolm and Marc, we were in a hotel bar. Fox was on. It is amazing to me that all the discredited political professionals, like Dick Morris and angry caustic commentators of new like Geraldine Ferraro kept going on and on saying so little of any substance. Is there no other news to be covered by our major media than what Obama said at his fundraiser? Their choice of commentators tells us everything about what they are attempting to make important in this election. Their base of thought is so limited, yet has the broad power to define the discussion. We can end that with new media and new conversations.

American elections have always been contentious. I have been reading the book 1800 about the election that swirled around Adams and Jefferson and others. If you just look at that election along with the elections of 1860, 1912, 1928 and 1960, you can see that the venal and the vicious has always been at the forefront. It is bare knuckled. Part of the bare knuckles of 1800 and 1860 and 1912, besides the vicious personal attacks, was actual deep policy differences. Candidates were unafraid of speaking to their visions of America, and they had them.

So, I could put up with all viscera, silliness, nastiness and meanness if candidates would just declare their visions honestly and with the passion of conviction.

I believe what Obama said about what motivates people’s distrust is true, and what McCain said to Michigan workers about their jobs not returning was real and true. They were both eviscerated and trashed for being straight.

Instead of backpedaling, candidates, tell us the reality as you see it and what you think we as a nation need to do.

That would be refreshing.

NOW

I gotta go, my 10 (almost 11 year old) only has a few more days till she is gone and back to school, so we got some Daddy/Daughter time that is calling.

Have a wonderful weekend.

-marc


4/09/08 from Vietnam, to Annapolis, to the Movies

This has been an interesting week. First, the Peabody Award comes for our work on the series we produced called Just Words. It was funded by the Open Society Institute and aired on WYPR for a little over a year. We submitted the work for the prestigious Peabody but had no expectations of winning one. It is a little overwhelming to be in the company of Steve Colbert, Planet Earth, Sixty Minutes, and other incredibly important national shows (including Project Runway, which I watch at my 11 year old daughter’s behest). It is quite an honor.

From 2005 to 2007 dozens of NPR stations around the country aired our six part documentary series, Shared Weight. I don’t know how many of you heard them (all six will be up on our new website for you to hear and podcast). They are six stand-alone hours produced with and about Vietnam veterans from both sides of the conflict. We spent six weeks in Vietnam recording and three veterans of that war went with us.

At any rate, we planned to return to Vietnam sometime in June or July to finish one of our stories. The first hour in our series was the story of Vietnam Veteran Homer Steedley and North Vietnamese soldier Hong Ngoc Dam. Homer killed Dam on his first day in Nam. They met coming around a bend in the road. There they were alone face to face. Homer got his gun our first. Dam died. Homer took the documents off his body. He kept them in his mother’s attic. For over thirty five years the image of that young man’s face and the documents he kept haunted him. He had to find Dam’s family to give them back that piece of him, of their son, husband and brother. We found the family. That first hour was called Wandering Souls because Vietnamese Buddhists believe that souls of the dead wander if their bodies or something of theirs is not returned home. Dam was one of 350,000 Vietnamese MIAs.

Now, Homer is going back to Vietnam for the first time since the war. He wants to meet Dam’s family and together they will journey to Kontum to find Dam’s body. We want to be there to finish this story of healing.

Well, we found out this week the trip is moved up to May. So, producer Jessica Phillips and I will be journeying to Vietnam. Hopefully, we will be sending back stories to you, with any luck with sound and pictures.

When we get back, we will head out in early June to the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They want to hear, and we want to tell, the story of what happened at WYPR. We want to tell the story of this community’s efforts to keep the public in public radio and to build and keep our sense of community. There will be thousands of people there who are dedicated to keeping alive and creating community non-corporate-controlled media. We will let you know what we find.

Then I am off for a week to the Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico to teach radio to a national gathering of Native American high school students. It is a camp called Native Visions started by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. It is not my first time there over the last fifteen years, but I love teaching at the place. Hopefully, more stories for me to share.

ANNAPOLIS

OK, Annapolis is done. The session is over. So, what really happened?

The biggest crime was the Constellation Energy deal being ratified by a bullied State Senate and House of Delegates. It was 1999 deregulation redux. I know, I know, the reregulation debate can still occur. The Public Service Commission was not granted subpoena power. This is the single most important failure of that deal and legislation. Read Sun Business Columnist Jay Hancock’s column today. We still do not know why energy cost so much after the 2005 auctions or what goes on at the auctions. The control of the grid and wholesale electric market is opaque, at best, at the state, regional and national level. It is controlled by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is controlled by the federal government, which, as we found at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration, is controlled by big oil and coal. Remember Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001 that would not release its report and never did. Do you remember that it was made up of all his friends in oil and coal and their ancillary industries?

What we needed was a bill that put teeth in the PSC, that changed laws to allow full disclosure of deal making in that industry and encourage our elected Congressional representatives to demand reform at the national level.

We can have openness, honesty, and a strong energy future with Constellation or anyone else. These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

MORE – MOVIES NOW

OK, enough blah blah … what I want to know is when will these clouds go away? I want sunshine.

We saw the film Stop Loss the other day at Hunt Valley. It was a powerful movie about the back door draft affecting the lives of so many American soldiers. It was by directed by Kimberly Pierce, whose previous film was Boys Don’t Cry. We went to a 5 PM show. We were the only two people sitting in the theater. I know Mondays at five may be a slow movie time but I think Americans don’t want to hear about this war. So few of us know people who serve, who died there or who were wounded in battle. What about you, do you know anyone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan? After we saw the film I was thinking about my student’s brother who died in Iraq and another woman I know whose son was killed in Iraq. This war makes me angry.

We also saw John Sayles’ Honeydripper at the Charles. What superb acting, wonderful script, great music and uplifting. God, it felt good to walk out of a movie smiling.

And Thursday night, it is the Stones in Scorsese’s Shine a Light at The Senator. I can’t wait. Talk about feeling good. I am afraid to tell you all that I saw my first Stones concert in the spring of ‘64 in Albany, New York. I have been hooked ever since. I was always more of Stones man than a Beatle boy. Though I loved post 65 Beatles. OK, too much information.

See you at the movies.


3/28/08 Constellation Deal

So, what is up with this deal between O’Malley and Constellation? Where are the voices of dissent? Where are the voices in our state legislature, in print, on TV and in radio who are raising questions about this so-called settlement?

Martin O’Malley ran on a campaign to address consumers being shortchanged, over-charged and ripped off by Constellation and their home state company BGE as a result of the 1999 deregulation of the industry. A move pushed by Sen. Pres Mike Miller and one of the forgotten forces behind all that lobbying in Annapolis in 1999 – ENRON.

The state government and Constellation say this will allow us to deal with a looming energy crisis in the next few years that will lead to brownouts across the state. We don’t generate enough electricity for our growth. But how does this “settlement” address that issue?

OK, so now we are getting some credit and rebates and the state won’t have to pay the bill of deactivating Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plants. We all get back $175 if we are lucky and they get to profit millions or even billions. We are still saddled with at least a 72% increase in our rates. Governor and state leaders, tell that to our bank accounts every month!

Because of the settlement, there will be no more investigations into stranded costs paid to Constellation to compensate them for losses that never occurred when they took over BGE plants. What about the investigation into the corporate relationship between BGE and Constellation? What about the accusation that Constellation sells Maryland energy sources outside the state, then sells them back to us, to BGE for huge profits? No further investigations into the wholesale power auctions and our exponentially rising utility bills! Investigations in 2005 and 2006 clearly showed something amiss. It clearly appeared we were being gouged and huge profits were being made. We will never know the answer to what happened to us and what Constellation really did.

No subpoena power for the Public Service Commission! How will they get to the bottom of anything as they look at re-regulation of the industry and plan for the energy future of our state? Steve Larsen, Chairman of the PSC, on my show, said he wanted the answers to this and more. Now his hands are tied.

Constellation stock is now on the rise. They can have outside investors without state regulatory approval.

What about the future? Hydropower will have its end. Our dams can’t handle the load and the silt is building up. Solar, wind and nuclear will take years to make a dent in our total energy supply. Does this give Constellation the power and right to continue to mine coal, spew its death into the air, and make West Virginia look like a moonscape after the tops of our most ancient mountains are lopped off?

We need better answers to what de-regulation did and what was going on between Constellation and BGE. We need a better plan for our energy future than we are getting.

State legislators need to raise their voices and raise questions. Our local media needs to investigate and keep this discussion alive. We all need to be involved at whatever level we can to keep the pressure on.

Dealing with the power of Constellation Energy and the rates we pay was a central theme of Martin O’Malley’s run for Governor. This shows all too well the power that corporate giants have in our state political process. I know Governor O’Malley felt pushed against a wall. We have a very precarious energy future in the next few years. This settlement, however, was not the answer. It was not even close.

-marc


3/18/08 Obama’s Speech Today

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

Today, I was a guest on Doni Glover’s show on WOLB.   When we finished our conversation on the air, I stumbled into their lunchroom.   Everyone was glued to CNN listening to Obama’s speech on race.  I sat down.   I became glued to the TV, to the words Obama was speaking to us all.

I don’t know how many of you heard it, but you can watch and read it here.  I have never heard a politician running for office talk about race in that manner.  He tackled it head on.

We live in a nation where race has always been at the root of our social and political discussion.   Race is at the root of our national persona.   It is complex, very complex.  Our generation, our race, our region, our gender, and our exposure other races define our feelings and sense of race as a nation.   Barak Obama clearly understands the complexity of race in America.   My own sense of him is that growing up as a Black child raised by a socially and politically open white mother, with conservative white grandparents in a white world, with an African father whom he did know, defined his own search for racial identity in America.   He lived in other cultures and saw race not just through the lens of Black and White but through Asian worlds that most non-Asian-Americans ever touch.   This is a life journey that took him, and continues to take him, wrestling with race through all its American complexities.

America needs to have this conversation with itself.  Maybe Barak Obama is the only one, at the moment, who is able to create this conversation among ourselves.

I really understood what he was saying about his minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.   White America easily dismisses Reverend Wright because they identify his words with the words of Farrakhan.  Most of us in the white world have to be willing to admit that this visceral reaction is what motivates us to become angry at the words of Reverend Wright.

Obama said he could no more turn against Reverend Wright than he could his white grandmother.   He said Reverend Wright came out of a generation that grew up in segregation and in the face of outright racial hatred in America.   He is still a distrustful and angry man.  He also said how much he learned about his faith and life from Rev. Wright.

Obama went on to say how much his white Kansas rural-raised grandmother loved him.   How much she loved this Black child in her life but how he cringed at her racist remarks.

This is life in America.   This is an America where love and family cross all those lines.  This is an America that must have a conversation with itself.

When Obama turned his conversation to the white working class of America and its frustrations, it was clear that he understands the anger of white working class Americans who feels like Black folks are getting a free ride, while they worked for everything they have.   He understands how that is all wrapped around the economic conditions they face with factories closing, mortgage foreclosures, and crumbling public schools that intensify the anger around race.

He understands the responsibility Black America must take for itself.   He called on Black fathers to come home to their children while understanding the devastation and desperation of life in the Black inner city streets of America.

He also understands that to get beyond race we need to have more than just a conversation with ourselves as Americans.  We need to rebuild our economy so that it supports stability and equality.   A nation rebuilding its infrastructure, breeding and teaching creative minds, a nation at work with decent paying jobs, a system that provides health care for all its citizens, and public schools where we feel safe and confident sending our children, just might allow us to go beyond race.  A movement fighting for this America has the power to transcend race.

I hope and pray that Big Media in America will do this speech and this conversation justice.   I am not optimistic but will jump for joy if proven wrong.   Let’s see what sound bites they use from this magnificent speech.

Let’s see if the rabid hosts of hot talk television and radio and the knee-jerk response columnists can keep their powder dry.   Let’s see if they can stop to think for a moment and help us have this conversation.

I was sitting with a dear friend at lunch (yeah, I can have lunch these days – what a novel idea) who said his liberal Jewish mother and her friends could not vote for Obama if he defended Rev Wright’s words.

The first thing that came to my mind was, how short our memories are.   His Mom is obviously part of my Dad’s generation.    I remember growing up in a world where we Jews lived in our neighborhoods apart from the rest.  It was because of discrimination against us and by our own choice to live among one another.  Non Jews were not trusted not to be anti-Semitic until we were satisfied they were not.   Goyim jokes (jokes about those who were not Jews) abounded in the community.   I grew up with cousins with numbers on their arms tattooed on by their Nazi torturers in concentration camps.   I knew that at any moment they .. the proverbial they .. could turn on us before sunset.  There is a distrust born of being a discriminated against minority.

You overcome it, you go beyond it, you fight against it, both in society and within your own being.  It is a complex thing.   I, too, understand the anger in Rev. Wright and in other dear friends of mine.   I don’t agree with it.   Race is both deep and superficial.  It means nothing in the reality of existence but it defines our every move in America.

President Clinton’s conversation on race when he was in the White House was superficial, elitist and detached.   Maybe now we can have a conversation based in the material reality of our everyday lives.  Obama’s words were eloquent but eloquence is not enough.   If he wins, he must build the America he preaches about.  If he loses, he has to build the movement he talks about.  Words of beauty will only take us so far.

I hope the substance is as powerful as the speech.   We will see.

-marc


02/29/08 Leap Day!

OK .. I am back. There is so much going on..

First, let’s get to the WYPR stuff right away.

The board and management of the station keep saying that there are reasons they cannot divulge as to why they cancelled my show.

So, I am asking them now …. Freeing them up from any fears they may have …
DIVULGE!!!!

Tell everyone, the listeners, the press, why you did this.
Tell me, you have never told me. I and my friends and people who loved and listened to the show would love to hear your reasoning.

My guess: they don’t have one, other than the reality we have all witnessed over the last month.

Anyway, on to bigger and better things!

It is time to get back in the saddle, so we are going to be bringing you new interviews. Until we get our new website up, you can find them right here on our blog, ready to listen to or to podcast.

How many of you are fans of the WIRE? My guess is a lot of you are.

I love the WIRE. It is a show that speaks not only about life in the inner city neighborhoods of our land but about what they are emblematic of in America. It speaks to who we are becoming in America. The acting is just phenomenal and the writing is the best on television.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will air interviews with actors, writers, producers, and others from the WIRE. We will start with creative partners Ed Burns and David Simon. This week you will hear actors Clarke Peters, who plays Lester Freamon, Andre Royo, who portrays Bubbles, and Robert Chew, playing the ill-fated kingpin Prop Joe. There will many more this week and in the coming weeks.

We won’t stop there. More interviews with authors, public figures, artists and just interesting folks coming your way. Many of them will be multiplatform stories, with pictures and more. Download the scripts, download the interviews. The Marc Steiner Show is back!

Let us know what is happening in your worlds and what you want to hear.

I will be writing more after the weekend, reflecting on what’s in the news, in our communities, in the arts.

Stay tuned… more exciting stuff coming our way.

Have a great weekend!

marc


2/21/08 thoughts today

I really want to get past this and build a new and creative world for us and for you.  We will and we are.  We’re going to post a new interview in just a few minutes. 

I wanted to write a few words about last night, as well. 

The gathering last night was amazing.  It was a cold snowy night.  A night that saw many events across the community cancelled.   But in Charles Village, an auditorium was filled with 300 people or so. 

The people there represented our community.   It was Black, White, Asian, Latino, elders, youth and middle aged, gay and straight.   There were truck drivers from Baltimore, school bus drivers from Bel Air, steel workers from Dundalk, university professors from every discipline, lawyers, nurses, doctors, social works, inner city activists, students, school teachers, filmmakers, journalists, artists and artisans.    Some were activists who came as an organized group but most were just folks there to speak there mind. 

It was inspiring to hear what my listeners and station members had to say.   Sure, on one one level it was about me and about the fact that I have been part of people’s lives in this community for the past fifteen years.     But all this was and is much larger and more important than any one man or any show on public radio. 

This is about community, about building community and a radio show that drew diverse communities together.  It is about the future of public radio and what the public means in public radio. 

Speakers stood to tell Tony Brandon, Barbara Bozzuto, Andy Bienstock, the management and board of WYPR that the program gave voice to the voiceless in this community. People testified that they had been introduced to voices, people and ideas from our community that they would never run across in their daily lives.  One inner city activist, Dante Wilson, said that all the media shows is negative images of Black communities.   He said that our program showed the world that there is a different side to the streets of Baltimore and people who were working to make a difference.   

School teachers stood up to say that nowhere else did teachers and regular working people have a forum to speak to the public.  Jewish-American and Arab-American leaders were there because our show was a place where ideas were non-threateningly shared.  

It became clear that the people in that audience felt that the Marc Steiner Show was a place that built community, built bridges between the diversity we live in, and created communication.  One thing was very clear; people understand that and want public media to be a place to build community.

The concept of public ownership of the airwaves was foremost in the minds of those who attended last night.    The “your” in Your Public Radio is more than just words.    When I came up with those call letters, it meant that it was to be a community owned and run station.   I believed it, the people who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the station believed it, and in the ensuing years those who became members of WYPR believed it.  I told them to believe it, and the station during its fund drives told them to believe.   We were telling them a lie.

Last night the community demanded that the station management and board include them in the process.    People believe that listener-members should have seats on the Board of Directors.   They should be part of the process of directing our public radio.   Some demanded that the board resign or that Tony Brandon and the management resign or that the board should fire the management and start over.  

A theme that was constant throughout the night was people demanding that the public mean something in public radio.

Out of this meeting the CAB will write a report to WYPR’s Board of Directors.  The meeting is March 12th.  You may attend that meeting.  You just have to register with WYPR to reserve a seat.

This is about the ownership and future of public radio.

-marc

 


2/20 A few words from Marc

Hello everyone,

I have a few short reflections after seeing what I wrote last night. I don’t want to fall into the trap of he said/she said quarrel of inconsequential detail. On some levels I have allowed myself to do that.

First, I realized when I spoke of the $750,000 raised that I inadvertently left out that $70 some thousand dollars of that amount was really contributed or in a sense forgiven by Johns Hopkins University. I realized after I sent it in to my blog that I left that line out.

Second, I want to be clear how grateful all of us should be to the original guarantors. Bill Clarke, Jonathan Melnick, Anne and Jane Daniels, Tony Brandon, Charlie Salisbury, Earl and Darielle Linehan, Tom and Barbara Bozzuto and Albert Williams. Without their guarantees we could not have saved the radio station for Baltimore. I just want to be absolutely clear about that.

Finally, the problems boil down to certain things that leadership of the station just doesn’t get.

  1. This should have been a partnership between guarantors, contributors and members to create a board to oversee the fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities of WYPR

  2. Martha Rudski, WJHU Marketing Director, came up with the name Your Public Radio because we believed we could create a truly powerful and unique institution that belonged to this community.

  3. When we first started, the story around NPR was the amazing marriage between this conservative Republican corporate executive and a community activist talk show host known for his progressive leanings coming together to build a community radio station. My belief in the myth hurt us all.

  4. All this is madness. There was never any concrete reason for it to happen. They keep changing their story as to what led to the end of my show because they are grasping for straws. There is no reason other than a deep personal and political dislike for me from Tony Brandon and a few others. They could not stand what I stood for, or that I was the face and voice of the station. Ray Blank, the station consultant, has said to me more than once that they see you getting all the recognition. They feel they deserve some. I always gave it to them.

  5. So, all this is for what?

 

I have nothing left to say unless they come at me or at the public with more specious comments.

See you tonight.

-Marc


2/8 WYPR Staff, the WYPR Board Meeting and the CAB Meeting

Hello everyone. I just wanted to share my thoughts on your latest thoughts.
I stopped by to say hello to the protesters at WYPR today. Some drove all the way from the Eastern Shore and Bel Air. I must say I am humbled by the outpouring. You all do love the soul of public radio. You get it.

The staff at WYPR is fantastic. They have been really supportive to me personally. When I taped my Maryland Morning segment many staffers were watching, cheering me on. They know the truth. They have confronted Tony Brandon and Andy Bienstock in meetings. Asking tough questions of management is never easy but they have done it. They are advocating for you, the listener. I know many of them feel lost but I have told them to work. They have families to support and mortgages to pay. Some have refused sit in my place on the air. Despite the difficulties I have faced with sectors of the management and some of the board, it has been a joyous experience to work with the producers and staff at WYPR. They are as upset about all of this just as you and I are.

As for management…are they trying to cancel the March 12th WYPR Board meeting, or are they just trying to discourage people from coming? Certainly all mention of it has disappeared from the WYPR website, where there was previously a message giving you a phone number to call if you wanted to attend. There are also reports they they are considering try to cancel the Community Advisory Board meeting on February 20th, despite the fact that the CAB is meant to be independently operated. I have also heard they on the verge of hiring a host for the midday show. So, we will see.

While the truth squads will keep working, we are going to work on developing new programming for the web and for the radio. I would love to hear what you think you would like us to do besides keep up the good fight. What are your ideas?

Keep letting them know what you think, show up on the 20th and let us know what you want us to do.

I have to read everything your wrote today. I will be back, and we will be in touch by e-mail and blog to let you know our next steps.

Thanks…

-Marc


2/5 from Marc

First, thanks so much for all the support. In my next post I will respond directly to the thoughts and ideas you all have shared.

I don’t know if you all heard Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast today. They interviewed me and then they spoke with Tony Brandon,  who is president of the station  and who led the effort to get of me. Quickly, I want set the record straight on one thing that he said which was a bald-faced lie.

He has constantly attempted diminish what I and our listeners did six years ago in raising funds to purchase what was then WJHU. He said on the air that we raised only 5% of the $5 million to purchase the station. I have all the records, and the old bank statements. We raised close to $750,000 after I send an e-mail asking listeners to support our effort to buy the station. $400,000 of that came in huge contributions of six figure. Four people gave $25,000 and numbers more $15, $10 and $5 thousand dollar contributions. Hundreds more gave everything from$5.00 to $1000.00. None of them (those who gave $25 thousand and less) were ever acknowledged or thanked by the station.

At any rate, in many ways this is beside the point. The money is not important. It is more important to them than to me.  But it is important that the efforts of the listeners and early supporters not be diminished.

What is important is the future of public radio. What is important is that this is about integrity of public radio. It is about the corporatization of WYPR and of public radio.

When I raised the money from listeners I said I would return every dime to them if we did not buy the station. You trusted me. I met some people, like Tony Brandon, who I thought would be partners to build our community station. Instead it was hijacked.

There is a history here that I will relate to all of you over the next few days. Right now I have to go off to a lunch meeting so I can continue to ensure coverage of our world in print, audio and video on our blog and the Center for Emerging Media website.

So, I will share with you all our future plans, and my perspective on the history of the past six years at WYPR very soon.

Thank you all so much. I will back at you a bit after lunch and for the next few days.

Take care.. and thanks

Marc


UPDATE

Folks, I really thought I would have to time to write something longer today but as you can well imagine it has been madness.Tomorrow I will write you all a tale of the last six years and what may lie ahead. Tomorrow, also, I will be on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast to discuss this situation. Tony Brandon will also be on giving his reasons for this situation. Thank you all so much for your outpouring of support. Just a thought for tonight. This is not about Marc Steiner but really about the future of public radio. I am merely a public image of much deeper issue.Talk to you all tomorrow.Thanks

Marc

Links to some of the coverage


02/02/08 a quick note…

I want to thank everyone for all of the support I’ve been receiving.   I also want to let you know that I’m going to keep this blog open.  I haven’t had a chance to write sooner because the internet is down at my house, but on Monday I will write more about what’s going on.  In the meantime, please post your thoughts and questions here.  You can also reach me at marcbsteiner@gmail.com.                                                                      -marc 


1/29/08 Marc’s thoughts on today’s show

PAYING KIDS TO DO WELL

Dr. Andres Alonso at noon

Paying kids to do well on tests?!?!?!?!?!?!?

My first visceral reaction was no way.  This is antithetical to what we all believe, that we should instill an intrinsic love of education. 

Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Schools, is going to spend a million dollars, in part to pay kids in the 11th and 12th grade who failed one of the High School Assessment tests, if they improve their scores on future tests.   They will receive up to $110.00, depending on how much their scores improve.  Money will also be used to pay students to tutor other students.

Some would argue, like Dan Rodricks, that middle and upper class families always bribe their kids with cash, dinner and objects of desire if they do well in school.  What is wrong with the city doing it for unmotivated kids also mired in poverty?

Others argue it is a quick fix and a bribe that hides real issue of why students don’t have an intrinsic love of learning and why they lose in our schools.

Is it a bad idea?  Looking forward to hearing what Dr. Alonso has to say.  Looking forward to what you have to say on air and on our blog.

 BANISHED

I was not amazed when I first heard that there was wholesale ethnic cleansing of African Americans from towns across America.  I was shocked when I found out that it occurred well into the depression era of the 1930’s.

One of our guests, Marco Williams, recently made the movie Banished.  It’s about the interactions of three Black families, who were descendents of the banished, and white people now living in those towns.  

The issue of the day will be to find out what relevance this has on our lives now.  The Germans paid reparations to the Jews who survived the camps, the US paid reparations to the Japanese Americans and the descendents of those interned in camps during World War II.  Should the US do the same for those who are the descendents of those African Americans ethnically cleansed from their homes?

Is it different because these are descendents of rather than the victims themselves?  Is monetary reparation the only possibility?  Does this give us as a society a chance for some reconciliation?  Is it just history, something for us to learn about and then let go?

What do you think?  Call in or write in at one, or comment on the blog.
Check with you later.

-Marc


More on the Economy

At noon tomorrow, Wednesday, we’re going to continue the discussion we began at noon today.  We had lots of calls and emails throughout the show today, and we’ll be going through them to help plan tomorrow’s show.  We’ll be checking the blog for listener’s thoughts on the economy, as well, so put up your comments here!

Here’s a couple articles to check out, if you’re looking for some further reading:

-from the NY Times magazine on Sunday, The Education of Ben Bernanke

-how one man personally made billions, literally, in one year thanks to the collapse of the housing market, in the Wall Street Journal, Trader Made Billions on Subprime

Justin